Your Customer Doesn’t Care How Much You Know, Until They Know How Much You Care

There isn’t a sector in our economy that will not feel the affect of increasing interest rates. The Reserve Bank efforts to curb inflation growth with interest rate hikes is now disturbingly regular.
The news of stressed households will increase, and we need to respond accordingly. We shouldn’t continue a business-as-usual operation when so many households are feeling the stress of increased interest rates that are now passed on, in full and with remarkable speed.

The household budget is under pressure, and we know from past economic events that in these conditions, families and households quickly reduce spending on discretionary services before going on to reduce spending on discretionary goods.

The auto sector often sails through the storm of economic upheaval. Whilst no sector can be immune to global or domestic recession, we often fare better than most: people delay new vehicle purchases and hang on to vehicles longer and that trend leads to more maintenance services, more repair and replacement parts.

But we’re in an unusual place right now. Interest rate increases combined with a worrying inflation rate means the fortnightly or monthly mortgage payment will leave less cash for expenditures on discretionary items.

Now nobody delivering auto service and repair would argue that maintaining a vehicle to ensure that it is safe and reliable should be considered ‘discretionary’ – it is certainly not a luxury or an optional purchase when you rely on the car to get you to and from work and to meet family and community commitments.
If you want to rely on the car to get you from A to B and to do so safely, it has to be maintained and serviced. But conveying this imperative to car owners is not going to be enough and there is more that we can do.

We should be concerned and deliberately aware that, despite the current backlog of auto service that is still occurring, we are about to enter a period in which car owners start to delay scheduled services and become reticent about additional purchases or repair work that is not absolutely critical.
Supporting long term customers with some empathy here and supporting the scheduling process has now become more important. It doesn’t matter how families came to be in mortgage stress – what matters now is how we support people in difficult times.

Being aware that there are difficult conversations to come and that bookings may be delayed because there is stress and worry has now become an important way to support customers, as is taking some time to listen carefully to the reticence about investing more in a vehicle when the family is struggling to manage all of the outgoings.

Strategies on how to manage the delayed or missed scheduled service should be developed and additional time taken during the call about what work is required on the vehicle. Can the work be broken into smaller components? Can we give the customer the option to authorise the urgent repairs and come back next month for the other items?

More emphasis on choice of parts is also important because it reveals to the customer that we know, and we care, that some families are facing some tough decisions and we are here to help where we can.
The high community trust levels that independent technicians enjoy is not simply a function of mechanical knowledge – we are in a unique position to do what we can to listen and offer understanding and support.

Loyal long-term customers know that you are technically adept and that you know what you are doing. The challenge for all of us over the next six to 12 months is to show that we also care, and we are here to support them.

Lesley Yates, AAAA Director of Government Relations and Advocacy

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